Michael Moore's Repellent Defense of “Zero Dark Thirty"
Jessica Chastain wins Best Actress for "Zero Dark Thirty" at the Golden Globes in Beverly Hills on January 13, 2013.
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Editor's Note: The following is Dave Clennon's response to Michael Moore's recent writeup and impassioned defense of director Kathryn Bigelow's film, Zero Dark Thirty, which has relaunched a debate about the use of torture in the 'War on Terror.' Moore's article appears below Clennon's response.
Wow! Michael Moore sure can make up a lot of dialogue for scenes he thinks happened off screen, in “ Zero Dark Thirty.”
He freely invents quotes for President Obama, writing words no one else has ever quoted Obama as saying. Here’s Moore’s Obama, scolding the CIA:
“Go find bin Laden – and don’t use torture. Torture is morally wrong. Torture is the coward’s way. C’mon – we’re smart, we’re the USA … Use your brains (like I do) and, goddammit, get to work!”
Were you writing fiction, Mike, or were you basing your script “on first hand accounts of actual events.” (The claim of Bigelow and Mark Boal in “Zero.”) In any case, your made-up dialogue belongs on Saturday Night Live, not in a serious defense of Bigelow and Boal.
Actually, I’d like to believe a scene like the one you wrote did take place, Mike, but it’s more like wishful thinking on your part. After all, what exactly has Obama done to bring these torturing incompetents to justice?
Torture abolitionists aren’t arguing whether or not “Zero Dark Thirty” portrays torture as “effective” (it does, though Bigelow and Boal consistently fudge the point). We know it’s morally wrong and a crime. BUT, like it or not, Mike, there are many Americans who are morally uncomfortable with torture, but they accept it as a necessary, “effective,” tool in the “War on Terror.” If those people learn that torture doesn’t work, they might, eventually, come to condemn it.
Torture abolitionists don’t need you to tell them that arguments about the “effectiveness” of torture can be a trap. Yes, such arguments can distract us from the real point — Torture is a moral abomination AND a crime. Torture abolitionists have been making that point for a long time, since way before Fox’s “24″ went on the air (2001), and made Kiefer Sutherland America’s poster boy for torture.
What are the real reasons torture abolitionists are criticizing “Zero Dark Thirty”?
Because the heroine of the film (Jessica Chastain as Maya) and Maya’s mentor Dan, commit a grievous crime — torture — and they are never, ever, condemned for their crimes, and they are never brought to justice. (Please, Michael, don’t say they’re innocent because Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales and Woo defined many forms of torture as, well, NOT torture.)
Instead of being indicted, these torturers are presented as heroes, as brave and dedicated “detectives.” No one gives Maya or Dan the kind of scolding, which you envision Obama giving, off-screen. Chastain’s Maya, is presented as especially admirable, a feminist action hero. She not only gets her man; she also muscles CIA male chauvinists out of the way, as she pushes ahead on “The Greatest Manhunt in History.” And we’re supposed to empathize and cheer her on.
But along the way on her quest, she learns the fine art of torture, from Dan. And she learns fast. When she’s left alone with their first victim, Ammar, he begs her for help. Having learned to stop flinching at Dan’s cruelty, she coldly replies, “You can help yourself by being truthful.”
Later, Chastain gets to supervise the torture of her own detainee, Faraj. She has him punched out, as she shouts, “You’re not being fulsome in your replies!” Then she has Faraj waterboarded.
We’ve already seen these “enhanced techniques” used on Ammar. But Chastain’s Maya employs a new one:
She orders a liquid — a thick, brown liquid — to be poured into a funnel which has been forced into Faraj’s mouth and rammed partway down his throat. Some of this brown liquid will spill from the sides of Faraj’s mouth; some will go into his lungs, the rest, into his stomach.